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What Is The Federal Prison Oversight Act

image: BOP.gov

House Passes Bi-Partisan Federal Prison Oversight Act

On Tuesday the House of Representatives passed Senator John Ossoff’s bipartisan “Federal Prison Oversight Act. Orsoff and other’s including Senators Dick Durbin, Chuck Grassley and Cory Booker have been pushing for better oversight of the agency that came in dead last in a recent survey of the best places in the Federal government to work.

The agency, which has had five directors in the last 10 years, has been plagued with several problems in that same amount of time. In the summer of 2022, Colette S. Peters took over the agency after Senator Dick Durbin called for the dismissal of then Director, Michael Carvajal. Carvajal took over in February 2020 after Kathleen Hawk Sawyer was called in for a second time, to turn the agency around.

Carvajal seemed to be doing ok until Covid-19. The Covid-19 pandemic caused thousands of infections and 183 inmate deaths according to these statistics from the BOP. A significant amount of BOP staff members also succumbed to Covid-19. The Senate judiciary committee felt that several of those deaths could have been prevented had the Bureau of Prisons followed the directive from then Attorney General William Barr. In March 2020 Barr exercised his power to direct the BOP to use home confinement to move as many minimum and low custody inmates to their homes, and out of harm’s way during the pandemic. Many facilities ignored those orders altogether while some facilities cherry picked just a handful of inmates for home confinement.

Carvajal’s problems escalated during a Senate Judiciary hearing where he was missing key data points for the Senators conducting the investigation. On top of that, staffing levels diminished to emergency levels, in part due to Covid, with many officers choosing other employment to move out of danger. Many of those same staff members never returned to the BOP resulting in nearly 8,000 job openings within the agency’s correctional division today.

Senator Jon Ossoff introduced the Bipartisan legislation (source: Senator Jon Ossoff)

Peters came from the position as Director of the Oregon correctional system where she saw vast improvements during her tenure. Recidivism was at an all time low and morale for both staff and inmates was as an all time high. At Peters’ swearing in ceremony she said her mission was to build “better inmates, note better neighbors”.

But that mantra appears to be lip service. Under her direction FCI Dublin, a women’s prison in California dubbed “The Rape Club” was shut down earlier this year after several staff members were convicted of sexual assault against inmates. Peters sat down for a 1:1 interview with 60 minutes in January at FCI Aliceville in Alabama (also a women’s facility). Several inmates at Aliceville told investigative reporters Cecilia Vega that the tour of Aliceville was a “dog and pony” show. Speaking under fear of retaliation they said that their programming needs were not being met and things were staged for the cameras

BOP Severs Relationship With ACA

In April the BOP severed their relationship with the American Correctional Association after a stern report criticizing that relationship was released by the Office of the Inspector General. That report basically accused the ACA of pencil whipping their BOP facility inspections and relying on reports from the agency itself.

“Department of Justice OIG concluded that the BOP and ACA agreed that ACA would rely on the BOP’s internal program review reports. As a result, it appears the BOP was, in effect, paying ACA to affirm the BOP’s own findings and thereby providing no real certification or action for improvement.” Walter Pavlo reported on Forbes. com

Even before severing the relationship with the ACA, Senators Ossoff, Durbin and Booker had been pushing for better oversight. In addition, Durbin is still calling for the BOP Director to be confirmed by the Senate. As it stands right now the Director is appointed by the President.

The legislation calls for “…the Department of Justice’s Inspector General (IG) to conduct comprehensive, risk-based inspections of the BOP’s 122 correctional facilities, provide recommendations to fix problems, and assign each facility a risk score, with higher-risk facilities required to be inspected more often. The IG must also report its findings and recommendations to Congress and the public, and the BOP must respond to all inspection reports within 60 days with a corrective action plan.” Senator Ossoff’s office reported.

“Our bipartisan Federal Prison Oversight Act has passed the House. This is a major milestone. My bipartisan Senate investigations of corruption, abuse, and misconduct in the Federal prison system have revealed an urgent need to overhaul Federal prison oversight,” Sen. Ossoff said. “I now urge Senate leadership to bring our bipartisan bill for a vote and send it to the President’s desk.”

As the legislation was introduced by Senators Ossoff, Durbin, Manchin, Capito and Kaine, it should have no problem passing the Senate.

Source: Senator Ossoff